Originally part of the national census, information about agricultural production has been collected by the federal government since 1810. An independent census for agriculture began in 1840. Managed by USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) since 1997, the data obtained by the census remains one of the most important sources of uniform information available to farmers, communities and industry. NASS has included questions about organic agriculture in the census since 2002. The first in-depth census of organic production practices was taken in 2008. Unfortunately the second census of organic production taken in 2012 used a slightly different methodology. As a result, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) (and possibly others) lobbied NASS to conduct another organic production survey (before the next 5 year cycle would call for) that uses identical methodologies so that trends in organic production can be more accurately assessed. This ‘2014 Organic Survey: Census of Agriculture Special Study’ should remedy this with this 14 page survey. Most respondents will only need to complete 7-8 pages unless their operations produce diverse types of products (for example vegetables and livestock).
The 2014 Organic Survey asks about:
- Who the certifier is and how long has the operation been certified organic;
- The size of the operation (acreage) and whether the land is owned or leased;
- The types and yields of crops, whether they are marketed through organic or conventional channels and, what their gross value was. Categories of crops considered include: 1) field crops, 2) grapes, 3) apples, 4) other fruits, tree nuts and berries, 5) vegetables grown in the open, 6) vegetables grown under protection, and a grab bag of 7) floriculture, nursery, mushroom, X-mas and maple syrup;
- Whether and how much of the operation is covered by crop insurance;
- Whether there have been economic losses caused by the presence of GMOs;
- Whether the farm operation produces livestock or dairy products;
- All production expenses for 2014;
- Production practices;
- Marketing practices;
- Participation in EQIP and Organic Cost Share programs, farm challenges, farm history and future, and that awkward question about total value of the operation’s ag products sold; and,
- The number of acres in transition, whether they are owned or leased and whether acreage is cropland, pasture or rangeland.
This special study is being sent by mail to all known U.S. certified and exempt (earning less than $5000 in sales) organic operations that have been identified by NASS using the 2011 Certified Organic Survey, the 2012 Census of Agriculture, and newly certified organic entities obtained from the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). If you are on their list you should have received a postcard indicating the survey is coming. Responses to the survey are mandatory, although internet sources suggest no one has been prosecuted for failing to respond to a census since 2007, and are due by mail by February 13, 2015 and online by April 3, 2015.